Minority issues in Latvia, No. 27


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Subject: Minority issues in Latvia, No. 27

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Minority issues in Latvia, No. 27


Minority issues in Latvia, No. 27
Prepared by the Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)
March 28, 2001
 

Results of municipal elections
 
On March 11, municipal elections took place in Latvia. Oppositional
Latvia's Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDWP) won elections to the
capital Riga City Council, by far the largest and reachest
municipality of the country. Social democrats will have 14 deputies
out of 60 in the Council. The oppositional pro-minority coalition "For
Human Rights in United Latvia" ("HRUL") will be represented by 13
deputies, ruling radical nationalistic party "For Fatherland and
Freedom" - by 11 deputies, other parties of the governmental coalition
achieved modest results: The People's Party - 6 seats, The Latvian Way
- 5, New Christian Party - 1. Seven other parties obtained 1 or 2
mandates each.
 
The pro-minority coalition "For Human Rights in United Latvia"
obtained good results in other municipalities too, in particular, its
representatives have been included into the ruling coalition in the
municipality of Daugavpils (the second biggest city of Latvia). 

Although social-democrats declared that they would like to make
coalition with "For Fatherland and Freedom", lengthy and tense
negotiations brought no result. Only in several days after the
announcement of the elections outcome, LSDWP began consultations with
"HRUL".  

On March 27, Gundars Bojars from LSDWP, who left the post of the
vice-speaker of the national parliament for a seat in Riga
municipality, was elected mayor of Riga. Mr Bojars received 31 vote
out of 60, while his only competitor, former mayor Andris Argalis
("For Fatherland and Freedom"), got 26 votes. The same day, a member
of the "HRUL" Sergei Dolgopolov was elected vice-mayor with 41 vote
for and 19 against. This is the first case after the restoration of
independence of Latvia when an ethnic Russian and representative of
the pro-minority party has been elected to so high position.
 
Cooperation between the two left-wing political forces caused angry
reaction in many Latvian-language media. Practically all political
parties spent immense money before the elections to advertise
themselves among the Russian-speaking citizens, whose proportion
gradually grows due to naturalisation. However, the results of this
strategy have proved to be unsatisfactory. That is why some
politicians acnowledged with displeasure that naturalized Latvia's
citizens of non-Latvian ethnic origin voted mainly for the "For Human
Rights in United Latvia". For example, Aija Pocha ("The Latvian Way")
speaking on national TV next morning after the elections, told: "We
thought that they [naturalized citizens] are loyal, but they voted for
the "HRUL"". MP Jazeps Shnepsts (the People’s Party) in his interview
to "Lauku Avize" ("The Rural Newspaper", March 20) told, "We have so
easy rules of naturalization... I think that we should reconsider this
question and make the naturalization process stricter." Juris Vidinsh
("For Fatherland and Freedom") mentioned in the same issue of the
newspaper, "A criminal process, moved by "The Latvian Way", which
insisted on the liberal Citizenship Law, is guilty of the elections'
results." Apparently, ruling parties hoped that the new
Russian-speaking citizens will forget the state politics towards
national minorities and will support its "authors".
 
Mr. Dzintars Abikis, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on
Education, Science and Culture, also feels anxious because of the new
structure of the Riga City Council. He worries about adoption of the
plan of Riga school network's reorganization (in fact - the program of
closing some Russian-language schools and kindergartens in Riga and
creating new Latvian-language educational institutions). Adoption of
the plan was suspended before the elections by means of the "HRUL"
deputies' activities. Mr. Abikis writes in his article in "Diena"
("The Day") on March 19 that "objective tendencies cannot be ignored,
Latvian children should not be discriminated and non-Latvians' wish to
be integrated into the Latvian environment should not be hindered."
 
It also should be mentioned that some even more radical than "For
Fatherland and Freedom" nationalistic parties participated at the Riga
municipal elections. For example, the Latvian Future Party, the United
List (included representatives of the parties "Our Land", "Namejs",
"Helsinki-86", Latvian Unity Party, "The People’s Heritage"). These
lists received only approx. 1000 votes and gained no mandates.
However, the United List (unofficially called also "The Latvian List")
advertised itself in the nationalistic newspaper "Latvietis Latvija"
("The Latvian in Latvia", No. 8, March 1-7, 2001) some days before the
elections, publishing the symbol of swastika and writing about "the
last battle for Latvian Latvia", "Latvian socialism", etc. Journalists
of the Russian-language newspaper "Vesti Segodnya" ("The News Today"),
who published the article about this advertisement on March 8, have
asked the Prosecutors’ Office to evaluate, whether the advertisement
did not run counter to the legislation of Latvia on usage of Nazi
symbols (see the text in Russian at 
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=03&d=08&w1=r&r=3&w2=p&pub=008#banner
).
 
On the day of the elections two youngsters from Daugavpils (the second
biggest city in Latvia, populated mainly by Russian-speakers)
handcuffed themselves to a fence near one of the biggest polling
stations in Riga, protesting against the fact that non-citizens of
Latvia have no rights to vote in municipal elections. According to
current legislation, these rights are granted to merely citizens of
Latvia. The youngsters were detained by the police.
 

Picket of schoolchildren near the Riga City Council
 
On March 9, the Latvian Youth Movement held a picket near the Riga
City Council. Russian-speaking schoolchildren protested against the
politics aimed at closing Russian-language schools and limiting
secondary education in Russian, with the slogans "We want to learn in
Russian!" The picket was particularly topical taking into account the
plan of Riga school network's reorganization, elaborated by the Riga
City Council. Ivan Stalnoy, leader of the schoolchildren organization,
told in his interview to the newspaper "Panorama Latvii" ("The
Panorama of Latvia") on March 22 that this action is only the first
from the series of activities to support state-financed secondary
education in Russian. The same was confirmed during his press
conference on March 23.
 

March 16 – the memorial day of the Latvian SS-Waffen legion
 
On March 16, about 300 people gathered in the Riga Dome in honour of
the Latvian SS-Waffen legion's soldiers. A lot of former legionnaires
were among them. During the church service the Archbishop of the
Latvian Lutheran Church Janis Vanags thanked the legionnaires for
their merits and told that "democratic states do not understand the
role of the legion in the Latvian history and consider it the same way
as it was in the Soviet Union." After the service former legionnaires
and other persons laid flowers and wreathes at the Brothers' Cemetery
(the main military cemetery in Latvia). A traditional procession to
the Freedom Monument did not take place, because of the Monument's
renovation work. However, the procession of the former legionnaires
was held in the city of Yurmala (a resort city near Riga). A former
mayor of the city (till the municipal elections) and newly elected
deputy Leonids Alksnis also participated in the event ("Lauku Avize" -
"The Rural Newspaper"), March 20).
 
The memorial day of the Latvian SS-Waffen legion is not an official
memorial day in Latvia since February 2000 when the Saeima voted to
remove it from the official calendar, but a few MPs from the People’s
Party and the party "For Fatherland and Freedom" took part in the
memorial day's activities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia
on March 20 declared that such activities are inadmissible as well as
"any other attempt to revise results of the Second World War" ("Vesti
Segodnya", March 21, 
http://www.cm.lv/index.php3?br=$br&g=2001&m=03&d=21&w1=r&r=2&w2=p&pub=003#banner
).
 

The "Vieda" publishers' awards
 
The "Vieda" publishing house has announced competition "The way to the
new world or the real nationalism and true culture – the only
guarantee of the Latvians' survival and development". One of the
competition advertisements was put up at the notice-board at the
University of Latvia. The "Vieda" offers students and schoolchildren
to think over, "why Latvia is forced upon the way to the EU as the
only right model of development, in connection with integration of
illegal colonists and their descendants", "why integration [of the
society] is absurd", "why fighters for freedom - national partisans
and legionnaires - are not glorified in the independent Latvia", "why
representatives of Russian media are not expelled from Latvia for hate
speech", "why colonists should leave the territory of Latvia to avoid
ethnic conflicts" and so on. After such reflections, students,
schoolchildren or other persons of age under 30 are offered to write a
composition. Possible topics: "Realization of Divine Justice or
Latvia's deliverance from 700,000 colonists as the task No.1", "Is
Russian-language media in Latvia spreading ideas of Russian chauvinism
or fascism", "National partisans and legionnaires - the example of
heroism for Latvian youth", etc. The compositions in the Latvian
language should be sent to the "Vieda" till April 10. The best
compositions will be published in a book and will be sent to the
leaders of the state. Besides, authors of the best compositions will
receive money awards. The first is of 100 Lats (approx. $165, average
10-month state grant for a state budget-funded student). Persons older
than 30 can also write and send their compositions, but cannot receive
money awards. ("Vesti Segodnya" (The News Today"), March 24).
 
It should be mentioned that Mr. Aivars Garda, a director of the
"Vieda" publishers, in December 1999 gave an interview expressing
similar ideas for the newspaper of the University of Latvia
"Universitates Avize". The Constitution Defence Bureau of Latvia did
not find hate speech in that interview then (see Minority issues in
Latvia, No. 13,
http://racoon.riga.lv/minelres/archive//03282000-21:26:25-13361.html
).

 
Alexei Dimitrov
Latvian Human Rights Committee (F.I.D.H.)

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